Archive for May, 2013

Cannes 2013 III

Friday, May 31st, 2013

I arrive on the 9:18 train to Cannes.

A quick breakfast at a boulangerie near the station, followed by a complimentary espresso at the Palais.

I am ready to start queuing for the 11:30 screening of La Vie d’Adéle. This is the second morning slot, with the more seasoned Cannes attendees having already seen a competition film at 8:30.

Pondering the steep rise of the horse-shoe shaped Salle Lumiere, I ask the member of the security team nearest to me whether I can try to find a place in the lower part of the Balcon. “Oui, allez y”, she motions to me. The seat at the left edge of the balcony overlooking the stalls below is a good find.

Minutes later, I sense a momentary collective intake of breath by those closer to the edge of the balcony. A few produce their mobile phones and take photos. I ask someone with a better view. “The jury has arrived!”, he says excitedly. He allows me to have a look from where he stands. “Spielberg is the one in the cap”, he says in a conspiratorial tone.

The lights go down. The pre-screening promo runs to the now world famous Cannes festival jingle. Then, without any titles, the first shot of the film is projected on the vast screen. As I walk out of the screening, I debate the merits of La Vie d’Adéle with a French film critic. She thinks the direction wasn’t as good as that of La Grand Bellezza / The Great Beauty (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino, Italy 2013). Having also watched that sumptuous Italian cinematic feast, I beg to differ with her. “The great direction of La Vie d’Adéle rests in the spectacularly moving performances of the two leads. This is a testimony to the director’s work.” We both hope the jury will agree with our respective views.

At the Palais, I bump into a gentleman in a flamboyant tuxedo. I immediately recognise him as the master of ceremonies for all the red carpet premieres – his is the voice that has announced the arrival of a thousand film stars and legends, as they alight from their cars and ascend the red carpet to the tune of flashing cameras.

I say hello. “How long have you been in charge of the red carpet?” “Ten years!” He asks how I am finding this year’s official selection. He agrees that it is vintage year.

At 4PM, I am at the Marché for my meeting with the American film distributor. The director of the company is ever so welcoming and helpful. He likes the story of the little girl in Baghdad. I hand him a one sheet. I am to send him the completed script soon.

In the evening, I bump into a friend – a veteran Cannes visitor. We walk along la Croisette, talking cinema, competition films, and how lucky we are to be here.

Our conversation is interrupted by an apparition so unexpected that I think it a hallucination. Only two feet away from us, a middle-aged man in a white dinner jacket speeds past back to the Palais. It takes me a couple of beats to recognise the director of China Town and The Pianist.

I hop on the late bus home.

Cannes 2013 has been most benevolent to this film dreamer.

Peace and love,

Ja‘far

Cannes 2013 Part I

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

I am concerned that I may be a bit late for Cannes, with my arrival being four days after the opening ceremony.

My fears are confirmed; rather than a plane full of film industry passengers, and film dreamers, this flight has a clear holiday feel to it.

The euphoria of taking flight, albeit temporarily, from all things work and routine, is soon put to the test by the constant crying and shrieking of a toddler in my row of seats. He fears flying.

By the time we land in Nice, I have a taste of the more challenging aspects of being a parent.

The accommodation exceeds my expectations. It is a spacious studio in a town a few kilometres outside Cannes.

My first Cannes encounter happens at the bus stop two hundred feet from the residence. I overhear a group of British young filmmakers discussing the merits of waiting for the next bus. “It won’t be here for anther half an hour.”

I am soon part of the debate whether to wait for the bus or to walk to the train station.

We walk to the station. The train is delayed.

We climb the street back to the bus stop. It arrives, but it’s full.

We descend the street back to the station, and catch the train.

Within minutes of arriving at Cannes, I am issued with my badge and the all-important festival bag.

Twenty copies of the one sheet for the little girl in Baghdad film are safely deposited in the bag.

I meet Paul, Daniel, Jonnie and Steve for lunch.

Paul and I head to the market and say hello to a couple of distributors.

Walking past a few of the tens of national pavilions dotting the Croisette, I stop at the German pavilion, to have a meeting with a young producer.

We start talking. This is my first Cannes pitch of the little girl in Baghdad story. He asks me to send him the full treatment.

I give him a one sheet.

At the main Marche du Film building, I walk over to the stand of a German company I know. I arrange for a meeting with the managing director. “But my priority is to sell these films, so I may be late!”, she warns.

I head to the Croisette, and breathe in world cinema through the multitude of film professionals and budding filmmakers rushing between meetings and screenings.

At 18:30, I am seated with the managing director and her head of acquisitions.

They both like the idea of my film.

She asks me to tell her what happens next. I do. I visualise the opening scene of the film. They both are touched.

“Make sure that you don’t tell the story to companies you don’t know; the premise is so simple that it can be made in other countries, without you knowing about it!”, she warns.

 She leaves me to finalise the contact details with her head of acquisitions.

He is very helpful, and suggests that I send them the complete script.

“We only read a script once, so make sure it is ready before you send it.”

I hand out two more one sheets.

This is turning out to be a far more encouraging experience than I had expected.

I take the early train back home. I have sweet dreams.

To be continued.

Peace and love,

Ja‘far

Cannes 2013 Part II

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

Breakfast at a cafe overlooking this small town high street. A Boulangerie on one corner, another cafe on the other, two small orange trees standing guard on either side of the street, and a busker playing something very French and pre-world wars on his accordion.

 The 30 something lady behind the counter is politeness and formality personified. I only get a glimpse beyond her professional self when she gives a warning, yet familiar, look to a little boy sat on a table in the back.

To keep him entertained, the TV is showing a French dubbed Japanese animation series. 

At the Palais, I wander into the first floor foyer where the flat screen TV is relaying the press conference of the Japanese director Takashi Miike for his competition entry, Shield of Straw (Japan 2013).

At the American Pavilion, I attend a talk with four producers. They range from Hollywood to the indie scene.

Back at the Marche du Film, I have a short meeting with a French producer specialising in children’s films. “I have used up our entire acquisitions budget,” she warns.

Nevertheless, I give her a brief synopsis. She likes it.

“Ok, I think you should go and talk to so and so over there. She is the company owner. Tell her I sent you!”

On mentioning the name of the company owner, the two assistants seem to stand to attention, and I am invited to take a seat. The lady herself is ever so charming and welcoming.

She warms to the story and the world of the little girl in Baghdad.

“I am not sure if we can move forward with this, as we are fully committed to a couple of productions for the next year. But please send me the script.”

The body language reveals a genuine desire to learn more.

I hand her a one sheet.

Later in the day, I have a meeting with an American indie distributor. The company head of festivals and sales arranges for me to meet his boss the next day.

I hand him a one sheet.

All good.

To be continued.

Peace and love,

Ja‘far

May 19th 2013

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

Filmwise: we have a one sheet for the little girl in Baghdad project.

This is a watershed moment in the process that has taken at least three years so far, including the past year working on the screenplay phase of the project, after at least two years of focus on the outline and treatment.
The provisional design I’d churned out a fortnight ago wasn’t met with much enthusiasm from my friends at work. Between them, they probably have seen more one sheets than they would like to remember.
Within an hour, a friend had taken the copy I’d used in my now abandoned one sheet and produced something that had the “Aah” touch. Her design reflected more elegantly the sense of place and ambiance of the story.
This was supplemented with a photograph of Baghdad at dawn, purchased from an online image  licensing outfit.
On Thursday evening, I was in Soho; a printer’s whose working hours I had remembered was my destination.
“The dimensions aren’t A4!”, was the statement of fact from the difficult-to-impress shop manager.
“But I can trim the white borders, if you like.”
With that, we agreed the price for 100 copies on thick white paper.
Fifty A3 sheets were ejected into the waiting tray of the large -several-feet-long printer. A thick piece of wood was used to position the pile beneath the guillotine blades. Three cuts later, 100 A4 (ish) one sheets emerged into existence.
Feeling the heat of the pile of cards in my hands on the train home, I wondered “how many of these will I be able to hand out? How many would be read before being binned? How many will  journey with their recipients to homes and offices across the globe? How many would survive to be souvenirs for the completed movie when it opens in a film festival somewhere under these heavens?”
Peace and love,
Ja’far

May 12th 2013

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

Filmwise: a new cut of the Cannes documentary is completed. The new changes I have made have helped create a tighter and more efficient storyline.

“Full HD!”
Like most budding filmmakers, I need a regular fix at the pictures. The communal experience of the cinema is my first choice for viewing the latest from dream factories.
However, with the usual demands of the 9 – 5 existence, going to the cinema on working days is not ideal. Enter the wonderful invention of (legal) online streaming of whole film libraries – obviously, not so wonderful, if you’re a video store (I miss the ritual of renting a video, chatting with the wannabe Tarantino behind the desk, empathising with the male customer across the shop floor as he attempts to impress the girl in the world cinema section with his feminine side by hogging the  romcom section…).
So, on Thursday evening this unsuspecting film dreamer arrived home, full of anticipation for the latest video on demand released picture from France. While waiting for the desktop computer to boot, the pizza was inserted into the oven – “12 minutes should do it.”
With the clothes changed and a plate washed for said pizza, something seemed amiss in the room. No light was emanating from the monitor.
After a chapter of “is the thing on, is the wire properly connected, is it the fuse, but why is it blinking?”, it became evident that the computer screen had withdrawn its services on account of its age.
“Ok, there is nothing for it; let’s dig out the old laptop.”
After the laptop revved itself back into life, I settled back into my pizza and movie ritual.
Two bites in, the screen went blank.
“Is this some sort of a united front? ‘A No films tonight convention!’”
At the local branch of a department store known for its good after-sale service, I was thrown off my inspection round of the giant Tv and computer screens by a ghastly apparition. A close up of a young woman’s face on one of the screens seemed to discount all the accumulated theories and theses about the aesthetics of the human face in close up. The make-up over her young features seemed to be broken down to its parts, turning the gloss and powder into visible uneven grains, distracting the eyes away from whole face.
More importantly, it created a barrier of details separating this viewer from the  person on the screen.
Noticing my shocked look, the young assistant tried to comfort me, “it’s full HD!”
Peace and love,
Ja’far

May 5th 2013

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

I was at the O2 nice and early on my second day at the festival.

At the tickets counter, the affable young man in a T-shirt and jacket had no change on the status quo of yesterday; no more tickets are likely to be made available for the panel discussion “Sense of Humor and Humour US – UK Comedy”. It was all sold out.

Standing in the foyer, with a long line of people for the “Waiting List” to my left, the lift ahead of me, and a corridor of doors to screening rooms, I said hello to a couple of Sundance volunteers.

“I think they’ve gone in and closed the doors now,” said the young man.

“Would I be breaking any rules if tried my luck at the door?”

After a brief debate, the two decided they weren’t sure.

“Why not, go and see what happens!”

I walked through the corridor to cinema number 7. The  double doors were manned (or is it womanned, as they were two young ladies?) by two volunteers.

Before I had time to ask, someone rushed past me, handed his ticket, and went in. The volunteer on the right added the ticket stub to her collection. The volunteer on the left clicked her silver-coloured headcounter.

“Is there a way for me to get in? I don’t have a ticket?”

“No!”, was the reply of the ticket stubs holder.

The headcounter holder had nothing to add.

Another latecomer handed his ticket. Another click on the headcounter.

“Please don’t look at me like that, I am not letting you in!”, said the stubs collector as she shut closed the doors.

Seconds later, the doors opened and two officials from the festival emerged. I could tell they were important, by the walkie-talkie headset the lady was wearing, and the absence of the volunteers’ jumper on their person.

“Sorry to interrupt, may I get in. I would really appreciate it if you could let me in,” realising how annoying I must have appeared to these, obviously, busy officials.

One of the two, a kindly gentleman, said softly to the lady with the headset, “I have a spare ticket!”

Miraculously, the doors opened and I followed into the darkened pathway towards the lit stage.

This was a truly inspiring panel discussion, with real insight into the methods and strategies writers of comedy use to go about winning over their audience.

In the evening, I watched In a World… (Dir. Lake Bell, USA 2013). Like Emanuel and the Truth about the Fishes, this was yet another example of the ability of indie storytellers to cover so much in the emotional development of a character with a very simple and enjoyable story frame.

On my final day at the festival, I spent a couple of hours listening to the heads of the Microwave film programme and other small budget film schemes talk about success stories they’ve overseen.

I loved the description a speaker gave of the three issues they usually face with scripts submitted to their respective schemes:

  1. Overambitious (too many post-apocalyptic scenarios)
  2. Cliches
  3. Subject matter unsuitable for this sort of budget.

“If you look at the micro/small budget films that have succeeded – think of Before Sunrise (Dir. Richard Linklater, 1995) or In Search of a Midnight Kiss (Dir. Alex Holdridge, 2007) – they are biopics, personal and philosophical.”

Food for thought, indeed.

The final screening of the festival for me was Sleepwalk with Me (Dir. Mike Birbiglia, 2012).

This certainly had taken onboard the advice of making the project personal, philosophical and biographical. As the director revealed in the Q&A, a large chunk of the pivotal points in the story were based on his own life events.

Thank you Sundance for coming to London; as a filmmaker, I felt at home.

Peace and love,

Ja‘far